Monthly Archives: January, 2014

Nancy Minus 25: Getting Ready for the Weight Loss Challenge

Over the next few weeks, Wellness Champion Nancy Ayapan of the Department of Children and Families will be sharing her experience participating in the WellMASS Weight Loss Challenge.  Visit the blog every Wednesday to learn about Nancy’s successes and struggles in trying to reach her goal of losing 25 pounds.  Feel free to share words of encouragement or your own experiences with the Challenge in the Comments section.

“Excellent job so far Nancy in having lost 50 pounds and getting closer to your weight loss goal. However, in order to feel your ultimate best, have a normal BMI, lower you bad cholesterol level, and not be at risk of getting diabetes (which runs in your family), you would need to lose 50 more pounds in order to be at your ideal weight of 150 pounds.”  These were the words and recommendations of my primary care physician as we completed my annual physical the other day. She stated that technically, I should weigh 135 pounds, but because I have “big bones” and am tall, 150 pounds is my “ideal” weight. Even though I felt encouraged and optimistic about having already lost 50 pounds, I also felt overwhelmed in thinking, “How in the world am I going to lose 50 additional pounds?”

To start, I realized that setting realistic goals is so important, because losing 50 pounds in a short amount of time is setting myself up for failure. However, losing 25 pounds is a much more attainable goal. I also realized that participating in a weight loss program or challenge would help me be accountable for my eating and exercise habits, which would in turn help me lose weight.  In addition, having the support of others and hearing how they have the same struggles that I have would also be helpful and encouraging.

Having said all this, I am committed to joining the 2014 WellMASS Weight Loss Challenge with the help of WellMASS Program Manager Ashley Rasmussen Mason. I know that participating in the challenge last year helped me a great deal, and it provided me with the tools I needed to continue to maintain my weight throughout the year. I am also committed to blogging my struggles, as well as my successes, in my endeavor of losing 25 pounds. I am thrilled about being chosen to write a blog every week, because writing my goals down makes them seem real and attainable. Most importantly, in 2014, more than ever, I want to follow through with my word and prove to myself that if others can do it, so can I!


Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Broccoli

Recently, my sister sent me a recipe that featured broccoli, one of my favorite vegetables.  I tried to think of how I could include this recipe in the blog, since I was certain I had already spotlighted broccoli as a Healthy Ingredient of the Week.  I was pleasantly surprised, however, when my search of past featured healthy ingredients found broccoli nowhere on the list.  This recipe, and the many reasons to eat broccoli (it’s extremely high in Vitamin C, a good source of fiber and Vitamin A, and rich in antioxidant carotenoids),  are long overdue.    

Broccoli Gratin

2 cups broccoli, cut into 1 – 2 inch pieces
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons of toasted pinenuts
3 tablespoons bread crumbs
3 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese


1.  Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.
2.  Toast the pinenuts in a dry skillet and set them aside to cool.
3.  Slice the onion and add it to a sauté pan over medium heat with enough olive oil to coat the pan.  
4.  Season with salt and pepper and continue to cook until the onion is translucent, then add the chopped broccoli and garlic (add more olive oil if needed).
5.  Season with salt and pepper, toss and cook for 5 – 7 minutes over medium heat, or until the broccoli just starts to become tender (if the garlic or onion start to brown, add a few tablespoons of water).
6.  Add the pinenuts to the broccoli and toss together.
7.  In a bowl, combine the bread crumbs and parmesan cheese with a couple teaspoons of olive oil, and mix together to moisten the bread crumbs.
8.  Move the broccoli to an oven-proof pan or dish.  Top with the bread crumbs and cook in the over for 10 – 15 minutes, or until the top is browned, and the broccoli is tender, but still has a bite to it.  Serves 4.

Recipe from No Recipe Required

Bring the Gym to Your Home with Fun Workout DVDs

I’ve been a proponent of working out at home for quite awhile.  There is no need to bundle up, get in the car, and head to the gym when you exercise in your living room.  In addition, most home workout equipment, such as exercise DVDs, is inexpensive and lasts for quite awhile, so working out at home can be quite a cost-saver. 

My preferred home workout consists of following along to a DVD for 45 minutes before work, most days of the week.  Over the years, I’ve acquired quite a few workout DVDs, and I thought I would share three of my favorites (including two recent finds that happen to be a nice change from my standard “dance off the pounds” videos). 

Dancing with the Stars Latin Cardio Dance
I pop in this DVD whenever I feel like doing a low-intensity dance workout.  The DVD consists of a short warm-up followed by four, 10-minute routines choreographed to merengue, cha-cha, samba, and mambo dance moves.  The routines are easy to follow and combine light cardio with core toning exercises.  At the end of the four routines, there is also an optional “Dancer’s Toning Workout” that features toning moves used by the Dancing with the Stars pros to train their celebrity counterparts.

Jillian Michaels Kickbox FastFix
I’ve recently gotten into kickboxing, which combines fast and controlled movements in both the upper and lower body.  Basically, you punch and kick your way to a more toned body.  This DVD consists of three, 20-minute routines that target the upper body, lower body, and abs, respectively, although each routine contains exercises that tone all three areas.  I’ve had friends who claim that Michaels’ other DVDs are brutal and often a challenge to complete, but I don’t feel this way about her kickboxing program.  It’s easy to follow, and she offers lots of opportunities for adapting moves that might seem too difficult.  Unlike other DVDs that seem easy, I feel like I am getting a full-body workout by toning all the major muscle groups while burning a lot of calories at the same time. 

 10-Minute Solution High Intensity Interval Training
High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, incorporates two of the most effective fat-burning methods – working out at a high intensity and alternating between high and low intensity exercises – to help you burn major calories in a short amount of time.  This DVD contains five, 10-minute workouts that each include eight different high intensity exercises.  The exercises are performed for 20 seconds at a time, twice, with a 10-second rest in between.  Each workout has a different theme:  HIIT 101 serves as a good intro to high-intensity training by incorporating a variety of exercises to work the whole body; HIIT explosion consists mainly of jumping, or plyometric exercises; and Ab HIIT, Upper Body HIIT, and Rock Bottom HIIT are pretty self-explanatory in terms of which muscle groups they target.  I normally perform 3 at a time  and feel like I’m burning more calories in those 30 minutes than I am with most other 45- or 60-minute workouts.

 These DVDs can be found at Target or online, and they cost between $10-15.  When choosing a DVD, find one that fits your exercise level, interests, and schedule; many DVDs contain exercises for both novice and expert participants and can be broken up into several short workouts when time becomes an issue.  If you have a favorite exercise DVD, feel free to share it in the Comments section.


Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Ginger

Ginger is an herb that has been used for centuries for its flavor and medicinal properties.  It adds a kick of flavor to both sweet and savory dishes, and has been shown to relieve nausea and upset stomachs, as well as lower blood sugar levels.  Although ginger can be taken as a supplement, it’s much tastier in its natural form.

Carrot Ginger Soup

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ pounds carrots (6-7 large carrots), peeled and sliced thin
2 cups chopped white or yellow onion
Salt, to taste
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 cups vegetable stock
2 cups water
3 large strips of zest from an orange
Chopped chives, parsley, dill, or fennel for garnish

1.  Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium heat and cook the onions and carrot, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften, about 5 to 8 minutes. Do not let the onions or carrots brown. Sprinkle a teaspoon of salt over the carrots and onions as they cook.
2.  Add the stock, water, ginger, and strips of orange zest. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the carrots soften, about 20
3.  Remove the strips of orange zest and discard. Working in small batches, pour the soup into a blender and purée until completely smooth. Add more salt to taste.
4.  Garnish with chopped chives, parsley, or fennel fronds.

Recipe from Simply Recipes 

Lower Your Stress Levels – and Blood Pressure – With the Relaxation Response

Even though the holiday season is behind us, everyday stressors still remain.  For most of us, stress never really takes a break, so it’s important to incorporate stress reduction techniques into our everyday routines.  An easy and effective way to do so is to practice the Relaxation Response – think of it as the exact opposite of the Stress Response – once or twice a day.  The Relaxation Response has been shown to counteract the negative effects of the sympathetic nervous system that take hold during prolonged stress, including an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.  In fact, when practiced on a regular basis, the Relaxation Response can decrease systolic blood pressure (that’s the top number) by 10 points! 

The Relaxation Response is easy to perform and can be done at your desk, in your car (as long as it’s parked), at home, or anywhere else the need arises.  Follow these simple steps to achieve stress reduction in just a few minutes:

  1. Select a positive word, short phrase, or prayer on which to focus.
  2. Sit quietly in a comfortable position, relax your muscles, and close your eyes.
  3. Breathe slowly through your nose, silently saying your focus word to yourself as you exhale.
  4. Do this for 10 minutes (or for as much time as you have).
  5. Sit quietly for a minute or so, clear your mind, then open your eyes.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Jicama

Jicama is a funny-sounding root vegetable that you probably don’t realize you’ve eaten before.  Jicama is commonly found shredded into coleslaws or salads and chopped into salsa.  Even a small amount of jicama in a dish yields major health benefits, as this veggie is extremely high in Vitamin C and iron (one small jicama alone contains over 100% of the Recommended Daily Allowance for both nutrients!).  Jicama can be used in a variety of sweet or savory dishes, especially those with a Mexican twist.

Jicama and Cucumber Salad with Red Chile Dressing

¼ cup cider vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons mild-flavored honey
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons minced onion
1-1 ½ teaspoons mild-to-medium-hot New Mexican red chile powder, plus more for garnish
¼  teaspoon salt
2 cups diced peeled jicama
1 medium English cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1.  Puree vinegar, honey, oil, onion, chile powder, and salt in a blender until smooth.
2.  Toss jicama and cucumber with the dressing in a large bowl; stir in mint. 
3.  Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
4.  Sprinkle the salad with more chile powder before serving, if desired.

Want to Know One of the Best Ways to Burn Calories in the Winter? Strap on Some Snowshoes and Head Outside!

January can be a tough month for those of us who like being active but hate the cold and snow.  Up until a few days ago, I firmly placed myself in that category and accepted the fact that, for the next few months, I’d be burning most of my calories indoors with a workout DVD or a marathon shopping trip at the mall.   My outlook changed completely, however, when my husband convinced me to go snowshoeing. 

Last Sunday, we met up with some friends at Brooskby Farm in Peabody, where we rented snowshoes, laced up, and took the 3-mile, 90-minute trek around the perimeter of the property.  Besides my husband, none of us had ever been snowshoeing before, but we had absolutely no difficulties walking around the farm, even when the footprints disappeared and we had to carve our own paths in the deep snow.


Even though snowshoeing burns a lot of calories (around 600 an hour), it doesn’t feel like a high-intensity activity, and it’s accessible to most people – if you can walk, you can snowshoe.   The difference between snowshoeing and normal walking, however, is that you encounter more resistance by taking wide, deep steps in the snow (especially when you’re trekking uphill, which we seemed to do a lot!).  Snowshoeing does not require any special skills or a steep financial commitment – I paid $10 for a shoe rental, and wore clothes I had on hand – heavy track pants, a long-sleeved workout top, a light jacket, mittens, a hat, and snow boots.  If you want to purchase your own snowshoes, a decent pair costs around $99 online or at an outdoor retailer like L.L. Bean.  I would highly recommend doing so, as the next time it snows you’ll have all the equipment you need on hand to go outside, burn a lot of calories, and have fun in the process.



Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Bananas

I love bananas, and not just because they are a good source of fiber and high in potassium and Vitamins C and B6.  I have a banana every morning with breakfast, either whole or blended with yogurt and other fruits to make a smoothie.  Bananas are much more versatile than this, however, and they can and should be used in a number of other ways.  The first recipe is my absolute favorite; I eat it for breakfast or as a snack before lunch or after dinner – basically, any time I have the opportunity to do so!  The second recipe offers a slightly different take on bananas that is just as delicious.  Many recipes call for bananas to be very ripe, as ripe bananas are sweeter, softer, and easier to mash.  Ripe bananas, however, have a higher sugar concentration and glycemic index than their under-ripe counterparts.  If you need to watch your sugar intake, consider using slightly under-ripe bananas with a little bit of green on the top – these are the kind I prefer to eat and cook with, and I’ve never had a problem using them in recipes.

Whole Wheat Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
¾ cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup brown sugar
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon fine salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 almost-ripe to ripe bananas
¼ cup egg substitute
½ cup plain yogurt (I prefer Greek, but regular works, too)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips
½ cup pecan or walnut pieces (optional)


1.  Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350°.  Grease a loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray.
2.  Melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl.   Cool slightly.
3.  Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together in a large bowl.
4.  Mash the bananas with a fork or potato masher in a medium bowl.  Mix in egg substitute, yogurt, vanilla, and butter. 
5.  Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.
6.  Stir in chocolate chips and nuts just as the batter comes together; batter should be wet, sticky, and a little lumpy.
7.  Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Recipe adapted from Food Network Kitchens’ How to Boil Water.  Meredith Books 2006.

Banana-Orange Relish

2 ripe bananas, diced
½ teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
2 oranges, peeled, segmented (see Tips) and chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons lime juice
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1.  Stir together bananas, orange zest, chopped oranges, cilantro, lime juice, coriander and salt in a medium bowl.
2.  Serve cold or at room temperature with roasted white fish, chicken, or pork.

Recipe from EatingWell

Boston Sports Clubs Offer Discounts for State Employees

Just in time to carry out your New Year’s Resolution to exercise more or lose weight as part of the forthcoming Second Annual WellMASS Weight Loss Challenge and Competition, Boston Sports Clubs are offering discounted membership rates to all state employees and their partners/spouses.  For $74.99 a month, you will receive a full access passport membership that will allow you access to 27 different BSC locations throughout MA and RI.  Passport membership also includes all group exercise classes and club amenities.   For more information, or to join, visit or your local Boston Sports Club. 

If you receive your health insurance through the GIC, you are also eligible for additional discounts and reimbursements for gym memberships through your health plan.  Call your health plan or visit its website for more information, and make sure to take advantage of all the valuable fitness-related resources available to you as a state employee!